Keukenhof Overview

Before visiting the Keukenhof gardens, I knew, vaguely, that there was a lot of tulilps in the Netherlands. I knew this because when I thought of the Netherlands, generic images of fields full of brightly colored flowers sprang to mind (thanks, tourism board!). Wooden clogs and a couple of joints are also always in the image, but that’s a different post.

So, Keukenhof. When spring sprung in Luxembourg, I began to hear about the legendary (though not to me) garden. Everyone raved about it. Straight men freely threw around superlatives. Women gushed. Intrigued, my husband and I hopped in the car.

First of all, what is Keukenhof? It is a garden, a very large 79-acre garden that is filled with bulb flowers. It is open from mid-March to mid-May of every year.

The word Keukenhof means “kitchen garden,” which reflects the use of the grounds by Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria in the 15th century. Instead of flowers, though, Countess Jacqueline reportedly grew vegetables and herbs.

How did the Keukenhof begin? There is no romantic story in the Keukenhof’s intentional, Marketing 101 beginnings. In 1949, a group of bulb growers wanted to encourage people to grow flowers in their home gardens. What better way to boost sales than by display? The garden was an immediate hit and it’s been a spectacle every year since.

What’s in the Keukenhof gardens? Primarily, millions of flowers set in and among footpaths, ponds, streams, inspirational gardens and greenhouses. At the time of our visit, the main greenhouse featured a (what else?) flower show and the smaller buildings housed an orchid show, cafés and a tulip museum. There’s also a Japanese garden, a historical garden (featuring bulb varieties from the 16th century), a castle and a windmill. Oh yes, and there’s quite a lot of people.

Each year, about 90 ‘royal suppliers’ (generally defined as the best growers and exporters in the Netherlands) donate the flowering bulbs. A staff of thirty plants the seven million bulbs and then digs them up at the end of the season.

We were probably a little early, as some of the tulips had not yet bloomed. I’m told late-April is the ideal time, but with the warm spring, who really knows any more? I knew I wanted to miss the crushing crowds that surely descend in late-April. However, if I go again, I might try to push it a couple of weeks.

Keukenhof is situated in Lisse, a miniscule town with a few hotels, at least one church, probably a few historical sights and a handful of shops (mostly chains, from what we saw while running through the main streets in search of an ATM one rainy morning).

From The Hague (with slow traffic getting into and out of the city), the drive to Keukenhof took about 45 minutes.

As of 2012, the admission fees are €14.50/person and €6 parking.

Keukenhof, Netherlands, Dutch, flowers, tulips

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